African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Ease off on the training. It's a smart thing to do as the big tour approaches. And so I am. Easing off. Problem is, it isn't on purpose. A couple of rides this last week have been completed at a pace well below my average, which is, in itself, pretty low. I've been passed by riders going up Bliss road at a greater relative speed than I achieve going by telephone poles on a flat. Anyway, a sore throat and the accompanying general malaise might have been responsible. A little.

On the brighter side, rides yesterday and today, while not terribly aggressive, were at least progressively better than those earlier in the week. In the end, I managed to eke out 124 miles and 8,100 feet since last Sunday. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go pound out another 80 miles and 5,000 feet do some more tapering.

The Trek isn't tapering though. It is, in fact, reddy to go, as evidenced in this recent photo:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


"Eat a bullfrog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day." Various forms, variously attributed. Sounds like something Anon might have said.

I took that advice to heart on yesterday's ride. Bet you wish you were around to see that! It might have been a more figurative interpretation as what I did was pedal up a short, very steep hill at the start of the early evening ride. Old Vineyard Road is 6 tenths of a mile with an altitude gain of 260 feet ~ a climbing rate of 500 feet per mile. And it throws 14% - 16% grades at you on the short trip up. Anyway, it's just over a mile from home and going up seemed a good way to loosen up.

It was hot yesterday. And humid. So I took it easy. It was nice to have a reason. I made three trips up Bliss, each accompanied by a "recovery climb," an easy ride up to the end of Ebner Coulee Road. It runs uphill and parallel to Old Vineyard, but that's where the similarities end. I gain 160 feet in just under a mile, only about one-fourth the relative climbing imposed by Old Vineyard.

On the way home I thought, "What the heck," and did Old Vineyard again. For my efforts, I was rewarded with a ride total of 34.5 miles and 3,240 feet of climbing. And, I got to follow a fox as it scampered along in the short grass along the side of the road. Better than a bullfrog any day.

I appreciate writers who can come up with a good word-picture or pack a message in a well-turned phrase that can be readily recalled. Like "Eat a bullfrog..." As for painting a picture with words, tell me what this dog is like: "He was a cross between a wolf and a chainsaw." I LOVE that one. It was in a Reader's Digest I read ages ago; probably in the LIfe in these United States section. I remember that the story was submitted by a bicyclist who encountered the dog on one of his rides ~ the original Fast Eddie*, I suppose.

Another of my favorites is Yogi Berra's "In theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice, they are not." As an engineer who spends a lot of time working on the theory of things, I can attest to the absolute truth of this one.

It has been my privilege to give after-dinner talks at an engineering conference in London that I have attended for many years. One year, I used this one: "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas." George Bernard Shaw. Nice theme for a technical conference. Well, I thought so. Being a scientific conference in England as it is, I thought using a quote from Sir Isaac Newton might be a nice touch. Here's one I've always liked: "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." You can't go wrong with quoting Winston Churchill either. His "...blood, toil, tears and sweat..." is a classic, but I couldn't quite work that into a thought related to Compressors and Their Systems, as the conference is called. But I liked, "Give us the tools and we will finish the job!"

Why am I sharing all of this? Not a clue. Sometimes it just happens. It's probably time to invoke another of my favorites, Dennis Healey's first law of holes: "When you are in one, stop digging."

Putting down the shovel. Now.

* If you don't know Fast Eddie, get the movie American Flyers

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I have yet to meet a hill I couldn't climb. There was this one in Switzerland I walked up, but, on a technicality, we won't count it here. They - hills I cannot climb - are out there, for sure. FO is one. There'll come a time when I won't make it if I keep riding in that direction long enough. I've never said that to anyone before, the part about not meeting a hill I couldn't climb. So, why tell you now? Well, a bird told me to. Sort of.

Today was a day to take laps up Bliss Road. Not being sure how I would feel after yesterday's century, I wasn't going to venture too far from home, yet I wanted to add what I could to my climbing total. Bliss is good for that. It is just over two miles from my driveway to the bottom of the hill. Climbing all the way to the top then on to the end of county FA results in 800 feet of climbing credits. So Bliss it was...

At the end of the first climb, just as the road flattened out at the top, I was attacked by a giant bird of prey, hissing and growling like a cross between a cougar and a rattlesnake. Or maybe it was a territorial Red-Winged Blackbird. Whatever. Four times he swooped down, skimming over my helmet, warning me of his fierceness with a distinctive hssssgrrrrhssss. When he was satisfied that he had driven me from his territory, he returned triumphantly to his perch on the JCT - FA sign.

The little drama was repeated on my second lap. This bird was DETERMINED to protect his domain from the brightly-colored, silver-headed (my HELMET, thank you) intruder. And he was successful. I didn't so much as ruffle a feather.

Then, on the third lap, as I crested the hill, I noticed he wasn't sitting on the sign. I thought, "I hope that he is now doing duty as an abstract grille ornament on a 2002 Subaru Forester the little fellow is OK. Not to worry. He had apparently just run off another intruder and was resting on a different sign at the far end of his territory. Sure enough, he was able to get in one good hssssgrrrrhssss before I pedaled past the boundary, known only to him, that separated his protectorate from the rest of the world. One determined bird, that one.

Determined. That's how I ride. There isn't much style or grace. And very little pace, either - I'm certifiably slow with the spreadsheets to prove it. But I'm determined to get through the ride. Get up the hill. Get home before dark. When you think about it, without style or grace or pace, that's about all there is left. So I tell myself as I struggle up the steep hills, "you haven't abandoned a climb yet." It keeps me going. That's all. I can tell you for sure that there are many riders who can climb farther, faster and longer than I can. They impress me. But me, I just want to make it up. For me.

Thinking about this made me wonder what will happen when I don't make it up the hill. I think it will go something like this: "Well, I didn't make it up this one." It feels good to ride over the crest at the top of the hill. But it's only a bike ride, not life. I've seen people riding bikes loaded down with a room full of furniture. Or pushing bikes groaning under the weight of more bananas than my local grocer has on display in his well-stocked produce section. This in a country where the average life expectancy is less than 50 years. Where the loads on the bike ARE life for them. So I don't think I'm going to fall apart when that day comes, when I meet that hill I can't climb. I hope not. And when it does happen, as it most certainly will, I'll let you know how it goes.

And what do I say to the bird? You are a royal pain, but I admire your determination. So keep it up. And watch out for that Subaru.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Going, Going...

Heading out for a ride that promises to be more elongated than elevated. News at 11.

It is now 11 - 11 a.m. in Vanuatu; 11 p.m. in Cape Verde.
In case you were wondering.

It takes some people quite a while to find their niche. Some never do. Take Bill. Working for years in his chosen profession. And doing a fine job, I might add. But today's ride made it clear he has missed his true calling. He should have been a hunting dog. In one day he managed to scare up a turkey, a doe with her fawn and an entire pack of dogs. In addition, he had close encounters with a horse, a cardinal and a squirrel bent on suicide-by-bike.

The ride? After climbing Bliss and II, it was a run along highway 33 to Cashton. This followed by a tour through an area of Amish farms, where said encounter with horse occurred, on the way back to Westby. Not stopping at Coon Valley, it was straight up County PI. Really. STRAIGHT up. Or so it seemed at the time. Back through Barre MIlls for a climb up FO. Then a little extra riding around on the ridge before dropping down Bliss and home. The extra riding? I needed only a few more miles to turn the ride into the first century of the year.

The result: A long ride. 100.5 miles to be precise. And while my climbing rate was a mere 53.9 feet per mile, that works out to a total of 5,414 feet. The most elongated, elevated ride of the year. Just in time, being only 33 days (and 11 hours, 36 minutes, 19 seconds ~ but who's counting) until departure for Kalispell and the Glacier / Waterton ride.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Updated! New visuals and sounds (links)

We bikers are nothing if not trendy. We dress in tight shorts and wear multi-colored jerseys that would make Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat jealous. Our carbon fiber bikes sport high-tech, handlebar-mounted electronics to record our every move. And my glasses are Technically Cool according to Rudy Project, their manufacturer. Trendsetters indeed.

The riding is trending up, too. Since my last post on May 29, I've ridden 194 miles and climbed 12,714 feet. Last Saturday was the big day in this latest spurt. I rode 55 miles and climbed 5,200 feet. And on this day, I did something I'd wanted to do for quite a while. Never getting too far from home (the real beauty of riding here), I rode from river level to the bluff-top 8 times: three times up Bliss Road, twice up County OA and -- drum roll, please -- three times up FO.

How do I remember these riding statistics? Well... on a spreadsheet, of course. Engineer!* And if you have all of the data on a spreadsheet, you might as well analyze it. RIght? Right! It's pretty obvious that the amount of climbing you do on a ride affects the pace that you are able to maintain. It does for me, that's for sure. So. I decided to look at my average speed for a ride (miles ridden divided by ride time) in relation to my overall climbing rate (feet climbed divided by miles ridden). There is, in fact, a clear relationship. And here is a chart to prove it:

It's pretty obvious that as the climbing rate goes up, my average speed goes down. The chart shows three sets of data: blue symbols are for the rides in April, red for May and green for June. Now pay attention, because you can learn something here. The lines are called Trendlines and show the average trend of the data. Big climbing rides are those where I climb at 90 to 100 feet per mile which keeps my pace down around 11 mph. As the rides get flatter, I ride faster. The least climbing I've done on a ride so far is 16 feet/mile and I sped along at a blistering (well, it was for me) 16.4 mph. But notice the other trend - where the rides in May were a bit faster than those in April and the three rides in June hint at yet another (though smaller) increase in pace.

So, while the levels are less than stellar, the trends are in the right direction. I can live with that.

* How do you say Engineer! in this context? Well, consider Jack Sparrow (CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow, that is) in the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie. In a sword fight with Will Turner, he pulled a sneaky move and subdued young Will who looked at him and said, "You cheated!" Jack cocked his head, smiled, and said "Pirate! And that's how you say Engineer! Click here to hear the brief clip from the movie.